Bridging ‘evident gender gap’ in leadership: Experts in Singapore urge women to dig into life purpose, step up and be ‘shameless’

Bridging ‘evident gender gap’ in leadership: Experts in Singapore urge women to dig into life purpose, step up and be ‘shameless’

The motherhood penalty, said Ang, refers to women experiencing slower career growth or earning lower salaries due to biases related to motherhood.

“One of the most common barriers that women still face in the workplace today is finding themselves having to choose between their career and family. 

“It’s an experience I personally relate to. Many questions I receive … revolve around how I manage to balance two equally demanding roles: Being a mother of three and a woman in a leadership position within a hyper-growth industry.

“Even though the workplace has progressed since, stubborn gender biases continue to exist,” she said.

Her colleague at LinkedIn, Frank Koo, agreed.

“Women, who tend to shoulder more family care-giving responsibilities, may struggle with the fear of being deemed a ‘maternity risk’ (the risk of being overlooked for career growth opportunities due to potential pregnancy) by companies and passed on for promotional opportunities at work,” said the company’s Head of Asia for Learning and Talent Solutions.

He also observed that “when women are decisive, they may be labelled as abrasive or bossy”.

“However, if a man exhibits similar behaviours, they are likely to be seen as strong-minded or determined.”

These are “some of the biggest barriers women face” in the workplace today and these are “deeply entrenched systemic biases by organisations, as well as unconscious biases and inherent prejudices by individuals”, said Koo.

These barriers show up in the numbers.

Koo pointed out that in research done by LinkedIn in 2022, men in Singapore are 42 per cent more likely than women to be promoted internally into leadership positions, with 64 per cent of leadership roles held by men.

“Additionally, we found that although women may rise to their first leadership position faster than their male colleagues, the window of opportunity – the period of time in which an employee may capture opportunities to be promoted to leadership positions – is limited between the two genders.

“In Singapore, this window is nine years for women and 10 years for men,” he said.

Roshni Mahtani Cheung, CEO and founder of TheAsianParent, calls this situation “frustrating”.

“Women still need to prove themselves more than is required from their male counterparts … Opportunities don’t open as much for us because while we think we’re getting closer and closer to breaking the glass ceiling for women in leadership, we still do face many barriers that keep us from getting close enough to tap that glass,” said Cheung, who sits on the board of the Singapore Repertory Theatre.

One barrier, she said, is gender bias.

“Men, despite how women work just as hard and smart, get promoted faster and receive more pay.”


Cheung also brought up something else – another recurring theme we noticed in our conversations with women leaders – a lack of confidence.

There is a “confidence gap that overshadows women’s competence”, she said.

“Studies have shown that it’s women’s low self-confidence that keeps them from progressing, while conversely, men’s high self-esteem – despite them being on the same level of competence as women – bolsters their success,” she added.

Cheung recently had a conversation about gender parity at work with Minister for Communications and Information Josephine Teo and President of United Women Singapore Georgette Tan Adamopoulos, as part of LinkedIn’s At the Table video series.

Speaking to CNA Women, Tan Adamopoulos reinforced that for most women, competency was not a barrier to their progress.

“Rather than specific skills or experiences, it’s about building their confidence to step up, take on different roles and demand a seat at the table,” said Tan, who has been a board member at BoardAgender for seven years.

“Part of the reason for the lack of confidence is because we, as women, do not talk about our accomplishments. By actively driving such conversations, we give other women, especially younger women, something to aspire to,” she said.

However, the CEO of Stewardship Asia Centre, which led the recent summit at Shangri-La Hotel, disagreed with this view.

When asked if a lack of confidence was an issue, Rajeev Peshawaria said: “Absolutely not.

“The lack of confidence is both a man’s and a woman’s issue … I think, ‘What if I lose it? What if I don’t get it?’. That’s lack of confidence,” he said.

Peshawaria, who has held senior leadership positions in top corporations like American Express, The Coca-Cola Company and Morgan Stanley, pressed that the main issue was purpose – and the set of values that would come with it.

“I’ve studied leadership for 30 years now and written several books on it. I have found that women actually make better leaders than men but there’s a conditionality: They must want to,” he said.

“Women are made to be better leaders. Leadership requires tough love – you need to be tough when you have to be tough and you need to give love when it is needed, and you need to do both at the same time – women are much better than men at doing that.

“(Men) can either do tough or they can do love. They are just not capable (of doing both),” Peshawaria added.

Ganu spoke of a recent study in which an ad was posted for an “impossible-to-fulfil role”. The results were stunning – and startling.